Arrayed Microchannel Manufacturing Facility
The mission of the Arrayed Microchannel Manufacturing (AMM) facility is to advance the manufacturing science and technology related to the economical production of microchannel arrays in polycrystalline metals, ceramics and polymers. Figure 1 shows a micromanufacturing architecture for realizing one million 50 µm wide, 15 cm long channels within the volume of a two liter bottle. This type of microchannel process technology (MPT) is capable of transformative change in areas of growing federal concern including alternative energy, home health care and national security. MPT arrays are being developed to operate across a spectrum of temperatures, pressures, weights, costs and corrosivities requiring the use of a broad range of polymer, ceramic and metal alloys including aluminum, copper, titanium, mild steel, stainless steel and Ni superalloys.
What is Microchannel Process Technology?
Microchannel arrays, varying from thumbnail to office desk in size, are being shown to revolutionize chemical and thermal processing across a broad range of private and public interests. Palmtop-sized arrays are being used in the nanomanufacturing of nanostructured films for more affordable solar cells, more efficient fuel cells and more compact heat exchangers for waste heat recovery. Arrays the size of paperback books are being developed as artificial kidneys to miniaturize blood dialysis systems leading to lower home health care costs and better patient health and convenience. Cell-phone-sized arrays have demonstrated compact, high efficiency person-portable cooling to extend the missions of first responders requiring hazard suits. Bread-loaf-sized arrays are enabling low noise and low thermal signature, fuel-cell-based power generators for replacing diesel generators in the battlefield. Many other MPT developments are underway.
What is the AMM Facility?
The key objective of the AMM Initiative is to establish a national program to advance AMM technology. MPT has broad potential but few current products in the marketplace. The MBI has worked with dozens of small and large US companies to research, develop and commercialize MPT. MPT companies are finding it difficult to engage US suppliers for the reliable and economical production of microchannel arrays. Most business partners currently use photochemical machining and diffusion brazing for the development of metal MPT. Issues include the high cost of etching and the poor reliability of diffusion brazing. Microforming technology is currently unable to meet MPT targets due to ductility constraints and grain size effects. Efforts to machine sub-100 µm features within forming tools have been undermined by an inconsistent supply of metal cutting tools leading to poor tolerances and premature tool failure. Diffusion brazing suppliers are currently unable to predict and eradicate reliability problems during MPT development cycles. Raw material suppliers are working on such small margins that the development dollars do not exist to address the microstructural needs of arrayed microchannel manufacturing.
Figure 2 shows the operating strategy for the MBI. The MBI operating strategy involves the commercialization of MPT in concert with industry partners primarily through the functions of capability development, business assessment and application development. Capability development establishes the process technology needed to move device and film applications forward. This includes the development of the equipment, facilities and expertise to conduct application development projects with industry.
Business assessment involves the identification of business partners to take MBI intellectual property forward. Business assessment is currently conducted by a commercialization team involving MBI staff and the offices of technology transfer within OSU and PNNL. A university extension director is staffed by ONAMI at 0.3 FTE within the MBI specifically to connect the MBI with meaningful industrial sponsors.
Application development is the preliminary work needed to take university and federal laboratory research to a product embodiment that can be used by a business partner to attract venture capital. Capability development and application development are currently staffed at 3.0 FTE within the MBI. Typically, business partners will require the aid of manufacturing supply chain partners in moving MBI technology into the marketplace. The MBI has relationships with key suppliers to help business partners make the transition to the marketplace.